Memories of Growing Up in the Bronx

by Margie Cervone (June, 1998)

I was only seven when we moved from New Jersey to The Bronx, but I remember it like it was yesterday. The apartment at 2130 Fuller Street, with 6 rooms and a bath, that housed Mom, Pop, Grandma Navin and seven kids under 14. It was in a middle income neighborhood, with families of mixed nationalities, like The Stevensons, Bernsteins, Gallos, Palumbos, Sedens, Farrels, Ciancis, The Wederhorns, Barshs and Fratacangelos. I remember Izzy's Jewish Grocery on the corner and smelling the pickle barrel. He stored loose pasta in long drawers with the glass fronts that revealed it's contents, and the large milk cans where we filled our own milk pails. There was also Delayos Produce Market, Dilillo's Italian Deli, The Daylight and Weigan Bakeries, Visconti's Cleaners, Rocchio's Drug Store and Minelli's Fish Store. I also recall a poolroom and clubhouse, next to Izzy's belonging to the Westchester Grey's Baseball Team. On summer weekends, they played against rival teams like The Robins, Pattersons, Carltons and Shamrocks, in the Catholic Protectory Fields (which is now Parkchester). The Bronx Zoo was within a very long walking distance from home and when school was closed, we packed a lunch and spent the day there. Pelham Bay Park, equipped with a play area, a running track, ball fields and 100 steps to climb, could be reached by a very short train ride for five cents. Carpentieri's Beach was a great weekend retreat.

When I was fourteen, we moved from Fuller Street to a two family house on Castle Hill Avenue. I remember parties and card games and Momma always in the kitchen cooking. Pop, President of a Social Club, entertained many friends. He now was a "big boss" with Con Ed and able to buy a two family house in Unionport with ample living quarters and a large finished basement. When Mom was not in her kitchen preparing meals for our family or relatives and friends, she was happy attending her small flower garden. Johnny, Ellen and I were delighted in our new surroundings and made many friends. I recall The Castle Hill Pool, The Riviera Dance Hall , The Midget Auto Races and ball fields on every empty lot. I remember sitting around a fire roasting mickies and drinking five-cent bottles of Pepsi. Sonny, Billy, Marie and Dolly now belonged to the working class. Marie was engaged to Charlie Ceo, and Billy and Sonny were dating the Tortorici Girls all from the old neighborhood. Our lives were slowly changing. The best being the birth of a baby brother, Bobby, like a brand new toy. He strengthened our family ties with love and joy.

Professional baseball, at this time was of great interest to all of us. We had three teams in New York, The Yankees, Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. I being the only Dodger fan, was a victim of Bronx Cheers. One thing we all agreed on was Frank Sinatra, the "teenage idol". Playing hookey to see him and other big names at The Paramount was part of our growing up.

When Japan attacked The U.S. at Pearl Harbor our lives came crashing down. Sonny, Billy, and soon after, Johnny, were called to Service. Our family, sad and filled with fear, carried on in hope and prayer. We tried filling in their jobs, doing their many chores and building their morale. In the warm weather, Pop created a victory garden in an empty lot, where the neighbors could gather for a card game, snacks, homemade wine and discuss war and politics. The worst recollection of those years, was the night I came home from work to find Mom and Pop in shock after receiving a wire from the War Department informing them of Sonny's death. The anxiety of funeral arrangements and awaiting his body being flown back home for a Military Funeral. Mom, God Bless Her, endured the heartache but never recovered from Sonny's tragedy. The day the war ended, I remember attending Holy Family Church. People were offering prayers of thanks. Celebrations and welcome home block parties followed for months after.

Marie married Charlie, Billy wed Sadie and Dolly presented Bobby with a playmate (Laurie). I don't remember when it happened, but suddenly we were all grown up, married and starting a new generation. Pop, Mom and Bobby pulled up anchor and relocated to Eastern Long Island. Years later Johnny moved his family next to them. Ellen now resides on Long Island as well as me. Only Billy remained faithful to his roots, now living in the Country Club section, he's not far from the homes where we grew up in. Dolly and Marie both have passed away, but their final resting-place is The Bronx. Like everything else in life, The Bronx has changed too. Most of our family and friends have moved for many reasons. For a better environment, or warmer weather, for crime protection or upgraded homes. To this day, I feel like a traitor. I'm sad for my grandchildren who can never experience our joy of "growing up in The beautiful Bronx".

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